In early October, just days after Craig Holden ’94 was sworn in as the new president of the State Bar of California, a bar panel proposed that law students get more real-world experience, including 15 units of practice-based experiential training, before sitting for the bar exam.
Holden, a large-firm litigation partner, said the proposal will be among the initiatives he advances during his term as president. He said the proposal will ensure that some combination of Socratic teaching and practical tips, similar to what he received as a UC Hastings student, will continue to be used by law professors to prepare young lawyers to start practicing.
“When I was a student, we had professors who were very practical about the way they taught the law,” said Holden, 44, a partner at Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith, a Los Angeles law firm, where he co-chairs the commercial litigation department.
Among his professors was the late Howard Downs, who taught at UC Hastings from 1972 to 1997. “Professor Downs could speak in scholarly terms about civil procedure, but could also give you the practical knowledge you would need to be effective as a litigator.”
Other draws for Holden to attend UC Hastings were the networking possibilities available at an institution with a large student body and access to members of UC Hastings’ “65 Club,” which hired faculty who had retired from premier institutions, and was phased out in 1998.
“They were at the top of their game and had taught generations of lawyers from major schools across the country,” he said.
Now, as head of the organization overseeing the state’s nearly quarter-million licensed lawyers, Holden has an ambitious agenda for his one-year term. He plans to push for more mentoring from seasoned lawyers for new lawyers, support for diversity pipeline initiatives, increasing access to legal services for the poor, and a fully funded state judiciary, which has closed more than 50 courtrooms since 2008.
Many bar members, including Mark Jackson ’94, Holden’s former bar exam study partner, endorse Holden’s goals and believe he has what it takes to help the state bar reach them.
“Craig has always been a very ambitious, intelligent and hard-working individual with a knack for taking care of business. At the same time he has a good sense of humor and knows how to connect with people,” said Jackson, a deputy district attorney in Alameda County. “As he begins his term as president of the state bar, the skill set he’s developed practicing law for 20 years will serve him and the entire bar well.”
Holden’s knack for connecting with people has impressed another old friend, Marguerite Downing, a superior court judge in Los Angeles. “Craig is a people person, someone you can talk to and get the feeling he’s actually listening,” says Downing. “But at the same time, like a good litigator, Craig can be present and yet still working toward his goals.”
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Holden received his undergraduate degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, before completing law school at UC Hastings.
His father was president of a financial institution and his mother practiced health care law. Both influenced him, but his grandmother, an émigré from Jamaica who helped raise him, instilled in him a desire to give back through public service and volunteer work.
In addition to managing the firm’s national commercial litigation department, Holden is also a litigator and trial lawyer of complex business and intellectual property cases. He has forged a path as a legal advocate for businesses in fields as varied as the film and music industries, and the computer, technology, manufacturing and retail sectors.
Holden said he enjoys meeting a wide variety of new people, delving into their problems, learning about their fields and crafting legal solutions for them. But he never forgets that the key to success in litigation is communicating the key points of his argument to the members of a jury, who may come from a wide variety of work and educational backgrounds.
“No matter how engrossed and fascinated you are by discussions you might have with experts and clients,” says Holden, “you have to figure out a way to distill that information into usable bits of information that can be consumed in an understandable way, while still being true to the facts.”